…So: I’m one of the last people to interact with this today, I’m sure. But Frank Viola, recently a blogger, has started a podcast of sorts. Today he asks an interesting (if basic) question here regarding the sheer variety of readings of Scripture, and its consequences. Though he doesn’t always enable comments, they are open today.
Since Friday is almost over as of this posting, I’m going to paraphrase Frank’s question (it’s still worth listening to the 10-minute podcast) and my response.
Q: There are over 33,000 denominations today. Why would God allow the Bible be written in such a way that the most intelligent scholars and theologians (not to mention devout, heart-felt followers of Jesus) could honestly interpret the Bible in so many ways?
R: This used to bother me as a young Christian. Then when I actually started to read the Bible, including the disturbing stuff, it bothered me even more! So many authors, so many different takes on even the same events and people. And – perhaps most jarring – so many different takes on God. By the time I was in college, my life suddenly felt like a canvas on which the modernist-fundamentalist debate took place!
But then I realized that ‘inspiration’ need not mean ‘uniformity.’ Let’s face it – Scripture is ragged; it speaks with pluriform voices. It’s a symphony, and it’s in color – it’s not a black-and-white monotone speaking. It is literature, and within the raggedness we hear God speaking.
Why is this? For all the reasons people are mentioning above. Because we live by faith; because we receive more light as we live (and read) on; because revelation is unfolding; because culture, age, gender, and social standing contribute to our reading – and, perhaps most importantly, because God refuses to be enshrined in conceptual idols. This is why Meister Eckhart prayed “God, rid me of ‘God’.”
Even the site of divine self-disclosure in Jesus Christ reveals God as unknown, dwelling in inaccessible light.
During eras of certain interpretive grids – certain absolutist ways of reading – pluriform reading of Holy Writ was invariably a bad and divisive thing, something to be overcome. But the Jewish people have always had a wonderful tradition, Midrash, which acknowledged that because Scripture is alive, we always have something to contribute to its meaning. Just like Einstein and others discovered that the very act of scientific measurement affected what’s being measured, so our act of reading Scripture impacts its meaning. This isn’t something to be avoided; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit to the interpretive community, the church. This is (some would say) part of what Jesus means when he gives us the holy responsibility to ‘bind and loose,’ earth’s readings impacting heaven.
I think we’re entering a fertile period of Christian spirituality; one where we recognize that we’re all at different stages of growth, and Jesus himself is the ultimate Truth – not a finite proposition. Some recommended reading on this: God Without Being by Jean-Luc Marion; What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by Jack Caputo; Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith by Merold Westphal; Texts Under Negotiation by Walter Brueggemann; The Fidelity of Betrayal by Pete Rollins; and The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle.